By Matthew Johnson of Waggz & Whiskerz
The definition of a service dog is a dog trained to do work to mitigate the life limiting disability of their handler. As I begin to cope with my own disabilities I have noticed a major change in my therapy dog Woofie (A.k.A.Dutch).
At First she started to help me with my walking then opening doors, seeing for me and hearing for me and being my guide, all the basics to get me mobile and on my feet. However recently new developments have started to occur.
On top of all my other disabilities I also have asthma along with 54 new allergies that I developed since having Bacterial Meningitis. Needless to say this doesn’t make things easier for me. But since developing these allergies this what I’ve noticed with Woofie.
Woofie has started to train herself!
It started with Woofie alerting members of my family when I was in the process of having an asthma attack. She would bark non-stop then run and alert the nearest person. As she noticed most people would just tell her to be quiet and to get her ball, unknowingly that I was having a full on asthma attack. I guess this frustrated Woofie because within a week of learning the warning signs she began to warn me directly when I am getting near something that would trigger an attack (like perfume or other food sensitivities).
This self taught modification of her therapy tasks could qualify as remarkable, Woofie has already been qualified to do search and rescue and has been in the media several times for her ability to track, so we all know she has a solid sense of smell but this new onset of behavior is truly amazing. She has begun to associate triggers as the starting point of my attacks and has figured out how to warn me in order to prevent these attacks. It’s very cool.
Incredibly Woofie has actually alerted me when having asthma attacks worth taking medication for as well (I try to put my rescue off due to massive side effects) rather than just some moderate Asthma Badness. She seems to be able to hear a difference in the cough that I cannot hear myself, and she'll get in my face and sniff me when I'm at a point where I really should be taking my rescue inhaler before slipping too far into a huge attack. For a while I was working on training her to bring my medication bag but she thinks it’s a toy. This leads me to believe even the most highly trained dogs still want some play time. To enhance Woofies training I have developed a system where I slowly have the things that I am allergic to introduce to Woofie- of course I cannot personally handle these things so with the aid of my brother Lee and our head trainer Alain Gauthier
(from Waggz & Whiskerz) we started to conduct some experiments. Lee & Al have been associating the elements that I am allergic to with the words “go get help” that way as Woofie learns the scent of these allergens she will know the command “go get help” and even further her assistance. Woofie has been pretty keen on this exercise, I think due to the highly delicious reward she gets after her task.
The fact that Woofie directly helps me with my health issues - besides alerting me, she keeps my stress level way down, and stress can be a trigger for me - as well as some of my other health issues, my health decline was debilitating and I could've qualified for some disability services but I chose not to, though - I guess that I didn't want to admit to my physical limitations at such a young age. Plus I know in my heart that I can overcome this especially with the aid of Woofie.
Woofie continues to amaze me and if she is able to do all these remarkable things just to ensure that I am healthy and strong then that is all the motivation in the world for me.
I will continue to track Woofies progress and my own as we continue this journey together.
On Jan 15th I will be featuring an inspirational story about a young women I met at Sunnybrook who is facing breast cancer. Clair Buckner who is 30 years old and her dog a 5-year-old Jack Russell named Rocky; have begun the healing journey together. Stay tuned to find out what they have discovered.